Close Reading of Adrienne Rich’s “Storm Warnings”

“Storm Warnings”

The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky.

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change
Lies all the mastery of elements
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter.
Time in the hand is not control of time,
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine
Of weather through the unsealed aperture.
This is our sole defense against the season;
These are the things we have learned to do
Who live in troubled regions.

-Adrienne Rich

Close Reading of Adrienne Rich’s “Storm Warnings”
Explication performed by Adam Ludwig

1. Meter – Unrhymed iambic pentameter with an incomplete line at the end of each stanza

2. Appearance – 4 equal length stanzas of 7 lines

3. Rhyme – No continuous rhyme, there is an occasional end rhyme

4. Texture and Sound – The alliterative sounds of the “w” and “s” words create a continuous motif in the poem, which functions to imitate the sound of the wind. The overall effect is a sense of uneasiness and unrest as one would feel with an approaching storm.

5. Punctuation – Heavy use of enjambment, long flowing sentences ending toward the end of each stanza.

6. Syntax – Long flowing sentences written in common vernacular.

7. Figurative Language –
a. imagery:
i. measuring instruments such as clock (measures time) and weatherglasses (measures barometric pressure), the weatherglass, a primitive predictive instrument, neither instrument is precise and neither can influence or alter that which they measure. “shatter fragments of an instrument” are not “a proof against the wind”
ii. “drawing the curtains as the sky goes black”
iii. “boughs strain against the sky”
iv. “set a match to candles sheathed in glass”
b. personification: “winds are walking overhead,” “zone of grey unrest is moving across the land” creates the illusion of weather as a human presence
c. metaphor: outside weather becomes a metaphor for emotional turbulence within a person

8. Diction I (Congruity) –
a. verbs: (falling, knowing, walking, moving, leave, watching, strain, waiting, traveled, come on, alter, control, rise, close, draw, set, live) the verbs seem fairly passive, they are intentionally weak verbs which ties into the theme of the poem: that humans are defenseless and only can hunker down and wait for troubles to pass by.
b. adjectives: (grey, pillowed, closed, silent, secret, polar, shattered, black, insistent, unsealed, sole, troubled) the adjectives create an isolated, lonely tone. Both verbs and adjectives function together to further drive home the theme of the poem.

9. Diction II (Ambiguity) –
a. the word “glass” can be interpreted as an instrument (a weather glass) or can be can refer to precipitation in the form of hail or sleet.
b. the choice of the phrase “polar realm” may be related to setting or to the emotional state of the speaker
c. Even though we have developed “instruments” to predict approaching weather (emotional trouble and hardship) these instruments are not always accurate, and cannot alter the outcome.

10. Diction III (Keywords and Central Ideas) –
a. The word “weather” is a keyword in the poem because it takes on two levels of meaning: the physical weather outdoors and the emotional weather in the speaker’s heart.
b. The word “prediction” is key because it ties into the theme of the poem: that people can do various things to prepare for tragedy, but these proofs will not stop the events from taking place or fully guard the person from them.
c. The word “waiting” also reinforces the theme of helplessness. An individual can board up the windows, but ultimately has to wait out the approaching storm.


One thought on “Close Reading of Adrienne Rich’s “Storm Warnings”

  1. Way to go with this poem! I also find it interesting that the persona “set(s) a match to candles sheathed in glass” in a gesture of protection and illumination at the moment the poem ironically grows both darkest and most confident. This image of the glass evokes the first line of the “glass” (read ‘barometer’ or ‘rain’) that has been “Falling all afternoon” as the pressure increases, both inside and outside of the house. I wonder if the narrator is hinting at the possibility (s)he is actually weeping…as the pressure outside the house, against which even the trees fight as their “Boughs strain against the sky,” begins to mount.

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